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Long-tailed skinks (Eutropis longicaudata) occur in heavily disturbed lowland habitats such as agricultural areas, parklands, roadsides and grassy areas. They are widely distributed throughout southeastern Asia. In Taiwan, they can be found in southern and southeastern parts including Orchid Island and Green Island. Yet, only the insular population on Orchid Island is known to display maternal care. Mother long-tailed skinks on Orchid Island attend their egg clutches after laying, aggressively warding off the Taiwan kukri snake (Oligodon formosanus).

Dr. Huang Wen-shan, Curator and Chair of the Museum’s Department of Biology, has been studying amphibians and reptiles on Orchid Island for 19 years. His paper entitled ‘Surf and turf: predation by egg-eating snakes has led to the evolution of parental care in a terrestrial lizard’ was published in Scientific Reports on Feb. 26th, which is an online open access scientific mega journal published by the Nature Publishing Group.

“There are many different patterns of parental care in the animal kingdom,” said Huang at the press conference. “The long-tailed skink typically does not provide protection to its offspring. Those on Orchid Island are the only exception,” he noted. “On Orchid Island, nesting female long-tailed skinks guard their nests during incubation. They attack snakes more often and escaped from snakes less often than those without eggs.” Why? Is that because there are more snake predators on Orchid Island? “The reason is unknown,” Huang explained, “A likely reason for this striking disparity between lizards and snakes involves their trophic ecology. Also, it is possible that nearby green sea turtle eggs (Chelonia mydas) provide the food source for snakes. Taiwan kurki snakes prey primarily on reptile eggs. They will also take lizards and other animals. The point is natural selection acting directly on the female and her ability to produce offspring exerts a strong influence on the evolution of maternal care.”

Surf and TurfSurf and TurfSurf and Turf

“Mostly, the evolution of paternal care in animal population is proved through theoretical models. Using extensive field surveys, we show the trophic link between terrestrial and marine habitats in the evolution of lizard maternal care,” said Huang. “And that is why this paper is accepted and published in Scientific Reports.”

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